Final Project — The Abandoned DC Archive

I began this project knowing that I wanted to combine my interests in abandoned locations with analysis of the past and present and use the digital history skills we developed in this class. Hence, the Abandoned DC Archive was born!

Here is my poster on this project:

This digital archive works as a space for the abandoned locations to exist. I broke the location archives down into three sections:

  1. Historical Timeline — This area is where I included a quick and generalized history of the locations, dates, important figures in its history (defined by national and local importance), and other names the locations went by.
  2. Archive — This area is the core the website which includes any and all information found digitally and publicly on these locations. The amount and type of sources varies for each location.
  3. Preservation Today — This area details the present history of the location and the preservation history of the location too.
aerial photo of the Mallows Bay shipwrecks

A Note on Sources:

The sources used for this archive were completely reliant upon their availability and if they were digitized.

The core resources I used to gather these sources came from the following places:

– Library of Congress
– Flickr
– Wikipedia Page References
– National Library of Medicine
– DC Planning Office
– National Park Service
– DC Preservation League
– Local preservation groups
– Maryland State Historical Society

The importance of linking the sources to their origins was to show how this archive was an additional resting place for these sources. We had studied in this class the issues of dead links and not updated websites. We lose access to these sources if their original holdings refuse to update with the very changing technology. So, this archive pulls upon others to create not just a digital space for these locations, but for a way for them to live on digitally too.

photograph depicting the construction of an underground trolley system under DuPont Circle

Locations:

The locations for the archive were pulled from websites like Atlas Obscura (a fantastic website to find the odd in your local area) and through books like Abandoned Washington D.C. and Secret Washington D.C. Luckily, the locations had a wide variety of histories from political to social to LGBTQ+ to gender to disability studies and much more!

Some of my favorites to look at for this were Forest Haven Asylum, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, the Iran Embassy, the Capitol Stones, and the Benjamin Franklin School.

the contemporary conditions of Forest Haven Asylum

The unfortunate part with majority of these locations is that they are still rotting away, or they are planned to be destroyed. Some have taken on a new life as people buy these places for other needs.

Whether or not they are physically saved, the abandoned can live in on digital archives as a digital reality to support their existence even when they made fade around us.

the stones and columns removed during the expansion of the Capital would be moved to Rock Creek Park and the National Arboretum.

Link to final project here
Abandoned DC Archive

Mapping the Antebellum Cotton Industry

For my digital project proposal, I’m thinking of creating an ArcGIS StoryMap of the international cotton industry in the mid-1800s.

Map of the Civil War Cotton Trade. Library of Congress.

Multiple historians have written about “King Cotton,” slavery, American capitalism, and the global economy:

  • Empire of Cotton: A Global History by Sven Beckert
  • Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management by Caitlin Rosenthal
  • The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward Baptist
  • Many, many more.

Based on this existing historical research, I want to create a digital project that allows viewers to follow cotton around the globe, from the plantations of the American South to the factories of England to the markets of America, Europe, and beyond.

Questions to Consider:

Where was cotton grown? What was slavery like on cotton plantations, and how did it change over time? How was cotton transported? Where was it processed? Where was it sold? Who profited? How did the cotton industry change over time, especially as the Civil War approached? To what extent were people in the American South, the American North, Britain, and elsewhere implicated in the persistence of American slavery?

The StoryMap format will allow visitors to interact with maps and historical information in a far more engaging way than a standard paper or blog post. Using a StoryMap will also allow me to include biographies of enslaved and free people who were involved in the cotton industry, adding an essential, personal dimension to a historical subject – American slavery – that’s inherently dehumanizing.

The goal here is to show general readers how slavery birthed modern economies. Even today, many economists continue to frame slavery as an antiquated system that was incompatible with our modern, industrialized economy. They try to draw a hard line between slavery and capitalism, a line that doesn’t hold up once you study the historical reality of the 19th century economy. Nor does it hold up when you examine the modern economy, where multinational corporations continue to exploit underpaid and enslaved workers. Slavery and capitalism is a popular topic among historians right now for a reason – our global economy is still deeply exploitative, and slavery is still practiced around the world. I hope that this project will prompt readers to do their own research into this topic.

— Jessica Shainker

How to create a digital project? (the articles edition)

Projects have been key to most people’s lives, whether in personal experiences, at work, or during school. But, how do we understand digital projects? It may seem rather simple, and in some ways it is simple, but they are very complex machines. Here are the key factors to take into consideration if you wish to start a digital history project.


The Field Guide to Human-Centered Designs by Ideo.org

This kit is designed for you to turn objects into human-centered ones, but what does this mean? It is both a combination in believing that all problems are solvable and in emphasizing closely working with communities. By doing this, you will build relationships, connections, and empathy with your communities, which can be highly valuable in the development and standing of your digital projects. This is important to consider at the beginning of establishing your digital project as it can impact how your end product will look like.

The process is split into three categories and each emphasizes what you need to bring in the digital project building process:


Omeka and its Peers by Scheinfeldt

One of the many questions we may ask is what format should our digital project take? For some, Omeka is the answer, and it is a very neutral website that allows for users to create community service-based digital projects. It is very popular, as well, amongst preservationists and scholars because it offers open source, low price tag, and vast abilities to create archives, storage spaces, exhibits, and much more:

This is definitely not the only means of formatting a digital project, however (i.e. WordPress, YouTube, Tiktok, Wix.com).

A Short Guide to Digital Humanities

If you can only read one short document on how to create digital projects, then this guide is the best option out of these all. It is an excellent source that breaks digital projects as a basic idea, details the importance of working with not just communities but institutions as well, how to evaluate digital scholarship to work for your project, and breaks down some of the processes and methods of digital projects. However, the most important here is discussing advocacy and asking if your digital project is relevant?

“Among its other activities, digital scholarship asserts the possibility of charged relations between consumers and producers of cultural work”

page 15 in “A Short Guide to Digital Humanities”

Done: Finishing Projects in the Digital Humanities by Kirschenbaum

We’ve all come to a point in our projects, laid down our pens or closed our laptops, and gave an exasperated sigh to say “DONE!” But, hold on– are you actually done? Kirschenbaum discusses how you know when the project is finished by detailing various scholars and their endings to their projects. Some found their finale not in an epic battle, but in knowing:

  1. The preservation of the digital project after the work is done?
  2. Knowing there is a processional and financial necessity?
  3. Went to press?

For digital projects, we cannot just close our laptops, but we must continue our work to ensure it lasts beyond the high of creating it.

NEH Digital Humanities Advancement Grants

These grants are built to support digital humanities projects as detailed above and can be research, studies, enhancement, or a design. These grants are split into three levels of financial aid that depend how much the projects need. The need here is either to fund the continuation of the project or sometimes in the permanent establishment of the project somewhere.


In class, we will be looking at two sample grant applications supplied by the NEH for their Digital Humanities Advancement Grants to dissect why these projects are examples of “good” digital projects.

The first is on the mapping project through the University of Georgia Research Foundation and the other is on open accessibility to manuscript collections through St. John’s University. It should be noted that these grants are for projects that already began before they applied for these grants.

Some of the questions to consider for this will be:

  1. Look at the list of people under each project’s teams. What do these lists reveal about the human state of digital projects and of Digital Humanities?
  2. What does each project add to digital history and to traditional history?
  3. How do the teams envision the project continuing to sustain itself?
  4. How would you apply this to public history?

Digital Project Reflection: Washington on the Frontier

Here it is!

Washington on the Frontier now takes users from Washington’s first foray into the wilderness of the Ohio country in 1753 to his retirement from leadership of the Virginia Regiment in 1758. Each stop on the journey is marked by a map point. Each map point, which selected or reached by clicking through, displays an image relevant to the events that occurred at that map point, a title including the year, and between 100 and 120 words of text describing the events. There are seventeen map points and one introductory page, for a total of eighteen “slides.” Individual reading speeds will impact the time it takes to read through the entire StoryMap but the feedback I have received indicates that it does not take an onerous amount of time to read through everything.

The one issue I was unable to resolve to my satisfaction was the text background: the limits of the StoryMapJS program mean that my options for the background on which the text is displayed are 1) nothing, which sometimes makes portions of the text difficult to read against the map; 2) an image, which made it more difficult to read the text and sometimes cut off too much of the map; or 3) color, which proved difficult to adjust to a satisfactory hue that would allow the text to be clearly read while not interfering with the layout of the rest of the page.

The majority of my difficulties came from locating good images and from writing the text: I tried to avoid writing text that would involve significant scrolling, as that would break the alignment of the image and the text with the map point. This meant I had to work to condense large amounts of information into a very small amount of words. The result is that some of the entries are missing details which I would have preferred to leave in had the space been available. However, the core historical facts are all present and the narrative still holds together.

The StoryMapJS program is relatively intuitive and easy to use, but I have encountered some issues. For one, the program works best when the points on the map are all in a relatively linear formation, rather than bouncing around from place to place. This meant that I had to cut some elements of Washington’s story from the presentation because their inclusion would disrupt the flow of the StoryMap. For instance, Washington traveled to Boston in 1757 to meet with Lord Loudon, the British commander-in-chief in North America. Such a tangent away from the line between Lake Eire and the Virginia coast formed by the majority of the map points. In the end I decided to err on the side of streamlining the process from the technical aspect and cut the Boston journey from the map. The oftentimes competing imperatives created by the technical limitations of the digital tool and the full richness of the historical account being presented via that tool were on full display during the creation of Washington on the Frontier.

The StoryMapJS program offers the chance to do interesting digital history projects in a format that is easy for users to navigate. The spatial component allows for presentations that help users understand history as not just happening over time, but also over space.

Digital Project Draft: Young Washington on the Frontier

My StoryMap project is titled “Young Washington on the Frontier.” It walks visitors through Washington’s early 20s, from his commission as an officer in the Virginia militia and travel into the frontier of colonial North America in 1753 to his resignation from the Virginia militia after the successful conclusion of the Forbes Campaign in 1758.

The points in the StoryMap have been set up, though a few more might be added. Images have been found for most of the points, but image research continues to fill in the remaining gaps and determine sourcing for some images. The text in the points is still in the first draft stage.

The project in its current form does not do a lot of education. However, once the text has been fully completed, the StoryMap will walk visitors through Washington’s early military career and the pivotal role he played in the French and Indian War – the conflict that set the stage for American independence. Visitors will get to see Washington’s journeys not just as words on a page, but in a visual format that emphasizes the immense distances that George Washington had traveled when he was still in the beginnings of his adult life. Visitors will also learn information about Washington that they likely had not known, since Washington tends to emerge fully-formed onto the scene of American history with his appointment to command of the Continental Army in 1775.

What remains to be done:

  • Complete image research – this will require some additional searching for relevant and usable images but the majority of the StoryMap points have images associated with them.
  • Complete text writing – this will take slightly longer. The text in its current form is a very rough draft. However, I have a full outline for the text that simply needs to be converted from bullet-points to full sentences. This will take some time but I’m confident it can be finished with a few days of concentrated effort.